Behind the headlines

Our regular panel comments on a topic in the news.

Work and pensions
secretary Alistair Darling said it was just one idea among many, but if so it
was one on which the Prime Minister appeared to be remarkably keen. The idea
was that parents of persistent young offenders and truanting children should
have their child benefit cut. If it was merely a stunt to get more voters to
their polling stations for the local elections last week, it backfired badly.
But it may have been more than a ruse. A Downing Street spokesperson confirmed
that the idea, which came from a cross-government group looking at street
crime, is "under active consideration". Child benefit would be taken
away from parents deemed to have failed their "out of control"
children. Downing Street admits that the details would have to be worked out
(who, for example, would decide that the parents were to blame) but says that
the government is not afraid of making a controversial decision, if it is the
right one. Tony Blair’s comments came as Save the Children launched its Beat
Poverty campaign to raise awareness of the problem of child poverty in the UK
and the rest of the world.

Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers

"I agree that parents should take responsibility for their children and
treat their education seriously. However, the government is the corporate
parent to thousands of children in care, a group where truancy is recognised to
be highest of all. If the government, with all its resources, has such an
appalling "parenting" record, how does it think that penalising
struggling families will achieve anything? It would be better for the
government to find a way of fulfilling its own parental responsibilities, then
recommend this path to other parents."

Felicity Collier,
chief executive, BAAF Adoption & Fostering

"I was staggered by this proposal. The sheer complexity of implementing
such a system should dissuade any government from seriously considering it.
Will benefit be restored when the child returns to school? And removed when
they again truant? Or retained if there are children in the family on the child
protection register? How is success measured? Perhaps by the number of stroppy
adolescents thrown out of their homes and into intensive foster care? Oh yes…
that was last week."

Karen Warwick,
senior practitioner, Barnardo’s

"This scares me! To even consider cutting a universal benefit is
ludicrous. Anyone who thinks this is going to assist parents in gaining control
over their ‘out of control’ children is clearly lacking in any understanding of
the needs of families with parenting difficulties. The odds are that
parent-child relationships will worsen if parents feel that it is their
children who are responsible for the reduction in household income."

Bill Badham,
programme manager, Children’s Society

"What a great example of joined-up government! The split between Number 10
and Number 11 is getting wider. Blame a few families and score some cheap
political points. But how does threatening to withdraw a universal benefit for
children help to tackle child poverty? Gordon Brown needs his friends to get
active, with high-profile action like Jubilee 2000. The End Child Poverty
Coalition needs to appraise the threat and rise to the challenge."

Bob Hudson,
principal research fellow, Nuffield Institute for Health, University of Leeds

"In the same week that Alain Enthoven had praised the government for
making Margaret Thatcher’s internal market look timid, here we had the Prime
Minister making a proposal that would have made Sir Keith Joseph blush. This is
an ill-thought-out idea, which will only increase family hardship and make
criminal activity more likely. Blair needs to remember his commitment to being
tough on the causes of crime."

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